The role of reader age and focus of attention in creating situation models from narratives

Daniel G. Morrow, Elizabeth A.L. Stine-Morrow, O. Von Leirer, Jill M. Andrassy, Jack Kahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined adult age differences in the mental representation of situations and how readers update this representation during narrative comprehension. Older and younger adults memorized a budding layout and then read narratives about a protagonist's actions in this building. The narratives contained critical sentences that described the protagonist moving from one room (the 'source room') into another (the 'goal room'), through an unmentioned path room. Each critical sentence was followed by a target sentence referring to an object in one of these rooms. Half of the target sentences explicitly mentioned the room containing this object and half did not. Reading time increased when the target object was more distant from the protagonist and when the room containing the object was not mentioned, suggesting that readers tracked the protagonist's location in the layout and allocated resources in order to maintain coherence in the situation model. Older adults' reading times differentially slowed with distance, and older readers who more accurately understood the narrative differentially slowed when the location of the target object was not mentioned. Finally, the more accurate readers (older and younger) slowed primarily when updating was most difficult (i.e., both when the room containing the object was not mentioned and for more distant objects). While these findings reveal qualitative similarity in how older and younger readers update spatially organized situation models, they also suggest that older readers must sometimes allocate mare resources to this updating process in order to maintain comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)P73-P80
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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